ColumnConscious life, hear me roar.
Before there were foodies, there were hunter-gatherers.
If you were hungry around 10,000 years ago, you likely had a good sharp spear, a stone implement, or a bow and arrow to help. You moved stealthily through grassy inlets, dark forests, and rough waves, or the tall grasses of a savannah, looking for deer, rabbits, fish, elk, anything with a heartbeat. You were a scavenger, too, finding eggs and carcasses. You caught fresh seafood, and you knew what nuts and berries to pick that wouldn’t kill you. Your family had to survive off what you captured, so you had to be good at what you did.
Today, modern day eating includes two kinds of people: those who eat simply because they are hungry and those who grandstand. For the latter, it’s trendy to be aware and hopeful. Want arugula with that?
We are so caught up in our organic, pro-biotic, farm raised, grass fed, locally caught, CLA-rich meats and hydroponically-grown produce that we’ve lost sight of an important aspect of our diet – the courage it takes to know where it comes from. We’re not going to see Portland hipsters in oxfords gutting deer or upper middle class types in North Face jackets slitting a grassfed cow’s throat. We’re not going to see trendy, knee-booted girls in leggings pulling feathers out of chickens for their new, cute hair extension, then eating the meat, nor are we going to see the fedora-topped, sullen-faced musician spear-fishing his wild salmon from the Pacific. (Mark Zuckerberg may be more authentic than any hipster could ever hope to be.)
We are a culture of hypocrites. We shun the real hunter, wrapped in camouflage and Hunter’s Orange. We refuse to meet eye-to-eye the seasoned fisherman at the end of the pier – the one who will gut and fine fillet.
I was at a friend’s dinner party in Brooklyn recently, where long-haired grassfed beef burgers were going to be served at the lively hour of 11:30 p.m. The group’s conversation centered around the hairy cow whom we were to eat momentarily, as we grazed on organic, local cheeses and freshly baked artisanal bread and drank urban winery wine. All of it lovely, to be sure.
Later, biting into the bloody burger, I found myself wanting to be anywhere but with my mouth on the flesh of a once-hairy beast that had roamed a beautiful farm in upstate New York. I ate around the edges, avoiding the cool middle. Within moments of putting down the rare part, it had been snatched by not-so-polite fingers and horrified faces. I wasn’t meaning to be wasteful.
Who was the conscious consumer, and who wasn’t? To be graceless consumers of bespoke foods, as if each bite brings us closer to mindfulness. Some of us eat to survive: Cheez-its and Hamburger Helper. Some of us eat to feel whole: farmers’ market kale and quinoa. In the latter case, we should also ask ourselves if we are doing this to be more conscious, or simply to be more cool.
Between the Lines, is a weekly column navigating the sometimes-sharp, sometimes-blurred lines of life and culture between city and country.
Image: Erik Brett